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Originally from what is now Hungary, the Satmars are now based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Kiryas Joel in Monroe, Orange County.
They believe that the state of Israel should not exist until it can be established by the coming of the Messiah. That belief makes the sect very controversial within the Hasidic and overall Jewish communities.
The Satmars believe in strict separation from outside cultures and are perhaps the most isolated Hasidic sect. Their Kiryas Joel community in Orange County is well known for running a public school for its special-education students.
The Jewish Agency is dedicated to encouraging Jews from around the world to immigrate and become citizens of Israel. The group's Web site is

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Agency claims it rescued family


(Original publication: June 4, 2004)

A Jewish family who came from Yemen to Rockland became the center of international controversy yesterday after a pro-Israel agency claimed it rescued family members from the Satmar Hasidim.

As soon as Na'ama Nahari and five of her 12 children landed in Israel on Wednesday, the Jewish Agency claimed she and her family had been held against their will in Monsey by members of the Satmar Hasidic community, which brought the family to the United States in 1998.

The agency's assertions were denied yesterday by one of Nahari's children in Monsey and by Chaim Fruend, a Kiryas Joel resident who said he brought the Nahari family to the United States from the Arab country. Fifteen members of the Nahari family remain in New York.

The exodus of Nahari and five of her children to Israel pitted an agency that helps Jews immigrate to Israel against the Satmars, who oppose the state of Israel until it is established by the coming of the Messiah. The Satmars have actively brought Yemenite Jews to the United States rather than Israel for nearly two decades.

"I have no idea why they made up those things, these lies," Yechil Nahari, 23, of Monsey said yesterday of the Jewish Agency. "We are free to do what we want and the Satmars helped us a lot. My mother went to Israel because her mother is very sick. No one tried to stop her."

Mezal Nahari, 20, one of Nahari's daughters in Monsey, said her mother took the younger children because the youngsters wanted to be with her. She spoke for her father, Saeed, because he doesn't speak English.

"I don't know if they are coming back," she said yesterday.

Michael Landsberg, who runs the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Delegation in North America, said yesterday that he respects and understands Yechil Nahari's views.

Landsberg said the agency first attempted to bring the whole family to Israel in December. He said their departure was stopped when two of the younger children couldn't make the flight because they were taken on a "play date" at the last minute by the Satmars.

"The family wanted to come to Israel," Landsberg said. "A representative of the family, just like other families in the past, came to us and asked for assistance to move to Israel."

Landsberg, whose family died in the Holocaust, said the organization's mission is to bring Jews to Israel, or rescue them from oppressive conditions. For decades, the agency has spirited Jewish refugees out of nations including Syria, Iran and Iraq.

"The Satmar promised to take them to a 'golden land,' but when they got here they found themselves in more of a Yiddish-speaking shtetl," Landsberg said, using the Yiddish word for small, insular town. "I am serving my people."

A Israeli Consulate official in New York would neither confirm nor deny the report, but said smuggling is definitely not something Israel is not involved in under any circumstances.

Israel does embrace the "law of return" principle, which allows the government to grant immigration visas to those Jews who wish to return to Israel. Israel and organizations like the Jewish Agency spend millions of dollars yearly on housing, education, and job training for refugees.

The issue of Yemenites and other Jews being spirited from Arab countries started with the founding of Israel in 1948, when nearly 90 percent of Yemen's 60,000 Jews were airlifted to Israel in what became known as "Operation Magic Carpet."

Many of the Yemenite Jews have maintained their ultra-Orthodox traditions going back 2,500 years. The traditions include reading the Bible in Aramaic. During the past two decades, the Satmar Hasidim have raised charitable funds among themselves to bring Yemenite Jews to the United States.

The Nahari family is among more than 168 Yemenite Jews who were brought to the United States from 1993 to 1998, Freund said yesterday. Many of the children were placed with families in Kiryas Joel, a Satmar community in Orange County, and attended schools in the community.

Freund said he started helping them after a Yemenite rabbi wanted the children educated in Jewish traditions, not the secular traditions in Israel. Freund said he had the approval from the community's rabbis in Monsey and Kiryas Joel. He said he many of the children brought here would go back to Yemen, Israel or London.

"We wanted to help Jewish people," Freund said. "We believe in giving charity and our charity was to bring them out from Yemen. We teach them Yiddish, English and help educate them. We respect them and help them keep their traditions."

Freund said he told Na'ama Nahari that if she left for Israel, she might have trouble getting back into the United States because of her immigration status. Freund said she had a green card.

Critics contend the Yemenite Jews are being used by the Satmars and, at times, Israel, and are losing their identity and traditions.

Asrim Issak, president of the Yemenite Jewish Federation of New York, said yesterday that the Satmars respect the Yemenite Jews' devout Judaism and ancient traditions. But, he said, the Satmars don't want the Yemenites immigrating to Israel. He said Satmar schools that accept Yemenite children force them to speak Yiddish and take up Satmar religious customs.

"I am critical of the Satmars and anyone else that bring Jews out of Yemen without a plan to help them," Issak said. "They take them out of Yemen and throw them into the streets without housing, education and jobs."

Moshe Friedman, secretary to Satmar Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, called the accusations that the Yemenite Jews were held against their will and exploited "ridiculous." He said the Israeli media, advocacy groups and immigration agencies just want to discredit the Satmars and people like Fruend for their charitable work on behalf of Jews.

"Some of the Yemenite people have changed their mind and either don't want to be religious or want to leave," Friedman said. "If they want to go to Israel, that's fine. We don't stop anyone. We don't recruit people."

When Nahari and her children arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, The Israeli media and Jewish Agency officials were waiting.

Nahari, her three daughters and two sons, ranging in age from 2 to 11, first visited with Nahari's mother in Rehovot and then settled into their temporary quarters in the Israeli government absorption center, south of Tel Aviv.

Such centers are found throughout Israel, featuring spartan apartments, subsidized classes in modern Hebrew, cultural activities and job placement services.

"They're petrified," said Michael Jankelowitz, a Jewish Agency spokesman in Israel. "They're worried about the fate of her husband and four (additional) children."

The Satmars have brought dozens of Yemenite Jews to New York "under the pretext that if they come to Israel, they will be forced to lose their religion, they will be forced to lead a secular life," Jankelowitz said.

The agency has "rescued" other Yemenite Jewish families from New York and two families from a Hasidic sect outside of London, Jankelowitz said.

"They take away their passports and they are held hostage," he said, adding that refugees from Yemen are used in the Satmars' appeals for donations, "but the money never gets to the families."

One of Nahari's daughters spoke New York-accented English to Israeli television crews and other media after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, saying she looked forward to life in Israel.

When asked if the Jewish Agency was doing what it has accused the Satmar of doing, Jankelowitz said "that's total hogwash. No one kidnapped them. They came on their own free will."

Monsey Rabbi David Eidensohn, who is Hasidic but not affiliated with the Satmars, said Yemenite Jews have a difficult time adjusting to the United States. He said the ultra-Orthodox Yemenite community is respected because their members maintained the ancient cabalist traditions of Judaism.

"People who come from a different country and a primitive lifestyle may not find living here easy," he said. "They are a lost community that really can't find its roots. Some of the Yemenite and Jews have made the transition and some saw the Zionists as their saviours. This whole issue involving the Yemenite Jews is very complicated and doesn't lend itself to a black and white situation."

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